AIBS Recommendations Included in House Report on Solving the Climate Crisis

A new plan from the Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis was released on June 30, 2020. The report, “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy, and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America”, includes recommendations provided by AIBS in response to the Committee’s 2019 request for information from the public. AIBS urged the Committee to secure “increased federal investment in the biological sciences to improve our understanding of how living systems are being influenced by climate change, identify novel biotechnology and management practices that promote biological resilience to and mitigation of climate change, and develop innovative strategies for improving agricultural productivity while reducing the energy required to produce food and fiber.”

The select committee was established by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the beginning of the 116th Congress to offer climate policy recommendations to the standing committees across jurisdictions. The report, initially scheduled for release in March, was delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 500 plus page report provides a roadmap for Congress “to build a prosperous, clean energy economy that values workers, advances environmental justice, and is prepared to meet the challenges of the climate crisis.”

Select Committee Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) said that if all the recommendations in the report were enacted, $8 trillion in climate benefits would be created through 2050. According to the analysis, the policies would reduce net U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and 88 percent below 2010 levels by 2050. The plan would also deliver significant health benefits and help avoid approximately 62,000 premature deaths annually by 2050, mainly by reducing fine particulate matter pollution.

“Confronting the climate crisis requires action across sectors and at all levels of government,” emphasizes the report. The committee offers several policy proposals, from carbon pricing and deploying decarbonization technologies to modernizing infrastructure. One of the many recommendations outlined in the report is capturing the “full potential of natural climate solutions” by expanding protections for and restoring the nation’s lands, waters, ocean, and wildlife.

The plan calls on Congress to establish a national goal of protecting at least 30 percent of all U.S. lands and ocean areas by 2030, prioritizing federal and nonfederal lands and waters with high ecological, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration value. “Conserving, protecting, and restoring natural landscapes and ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, is critical to solving the climate and biodiversity crises,” according to the report. “Congress should protect mature and old growth forests; invest in forest restoration, reforestation, and afforestation on public and private lands, including urban areas to improve urban tree canopy; manage wildfire for community safety and ecological health; ensure forest management activities focus on climate and biodiversity benefits; and protect and restore native grasslands.”

The framework urges lawmakers to expand and sustain federal support for climate science, including national and international climate assessments, foundational Earth system science research, and studies of climate impacts on human and natural systems. The committee recommends that federal agencies develop a National Nature Assessment, a comprehensive and periodic report to provide policymakers and the public with “clear and actionable information on the condition of America’s natural areas, wildlife, wildlife habitat, ocean health, watersheds and wetlands, and other natural systems.”

The report also calls for investing in agricultural solutions to climate change, with a recommendation to expand rural broadband infrastructure to support precision agriculture.

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Legislation Introduced to Provide COVID-19 Relief to Research Community

On June 24, 2020, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced bipartisan legislation to provide emergency relief appropriations for federal science agencies to support the research community during the ongoing public health crisis.

The Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act (H.R. 7308), sponsored by Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Fred Upton (R-MI), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), would authorize approximately $26 billion in supplemental funding for federal research agencies to be awarded to research universities, independent institutions, and national laboratories to address the COVID-19 related disruption to federally funded research.

The $26 billion in relief funding would be allocated to federal departments and agencies as follows:

  • $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health
  • $3 billion for the National Science Foundation
  • $2 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • $5 billion for the Department of Energy, of which $3 billion would be available for the Office of Science
  • $300 million for the U.S. Geological Survey within Department of the Interior
  • $3 billion for the Department of Defense
  • $650 million for the Department of Commerce, of which $350 million would be directed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and $300 million to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • $380 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • $200 million for the Department of Education
  • $200 million for the Environmental Protection Agency

The measure would also provide temporary regulatory flexibility until universities and nonprofit research institutes can safely reopen federally-funded research laboratories, allowing graduate students, postdocs, principal investigators, technical support staff, and other research personnel to continue to receive salaries while research activities have been disrupted. According to Representative DeGette, these funds could enable researchers “to complete work that was disrupted by COVID-19, or extend the training or employment of researchers on an existing research project for up to two years because of the disruption of the job market.”

“These researchers are essential to our nation’s public health, national security, economic growth and international competitiveness,” stated the lawmakers. “Preserving our scientific infrastructure and protecting our innovation pipeline will help ensure U.S. leadership in the world and help us better respond to future pandemics.”

Provisions included in the RISE Act are consistent with recommendations made earlier this year by higher education and scientific societies and coalitions, including the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Council on Education. These provisions were also endorsed by 181 Representatives and 33 Senators.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is among more than 250 higher education, research, industry groups, and associations that have endorsed H.R. 7308 so far.

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EPA Will Not Appeal Ruling on Advisory Panel Membership

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it will not appeal a recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) vacating the agency’s directive entitled “Strengthening and Improving Membership on EPA Federal Advisory Committees.”

In a February 2020 opinion, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote of SDNY wrote that EPA needed to provide a “reasoned explanation” for its October 31, 2017 directive prohibiting EPA grant recipients from serving on its science advisory committees. According to the judge, the agency had “failed to articulate any reason for changing its longstanding practice of permitting EPA grant recipients to serve on EPA advisory committees.” Later in April, Judge Cote ruled against the order and said EPA “must simply return to the standards that it historically applied until those standards were altered by the Directive.”

In a June 24, 2020 statement, EPA explained its decision to not challenge the decision: “The decision not to appeal the SDNY judgment was made in light of a related decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued in April. Based on that subsequent decision, EPA has determined that any blanket prohibition on the participation of EPA grant recipients as special government employees in EPA advisory committees should be promulgated as a supplemental ethics regulation with the concurrence of the Office of Government Ethics.” The agency added that foregoing an appeal “has no effect on the current composition of the Agency’s federal advisory committees.”

The lawsuit against the directive was filed last year by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to E&E News, while NRDC attorney Vivian Wang welcomed the return to pre-2017 standards, “the reality is that many distinguished scientists were dismissed from EPA’s advisory committees because of this unlawful directive.”

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) was among many scientific organizations to call for reversing this policy when it was first issued in 2017. In a November 2017 letter to then EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, AIBS had pushed back against the directive: “EPA’s scientific advisory committees should be comprised of recognized scientific experts. To arbitrarily eliminate from service on the panels individuals who have research funding from the EPA does not help to ensure that the agency is receiving the best available advice.”

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Senate Confirms New NSF Director

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan as the 15th Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The White House nominated Dr. Panchanathan, a computer scientist and Chief Research and Innovation officer at Arizona State University, to lead NSF in December 2019. Dr. Panchanathan has served as a member of the National Science Board, NSF’s governing body, since 2014. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. He is also the Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Society of Optical Engineering (SPIE).

“Right now, the world faces significant scientific challenges — most obviously a pandemic.” Said Dr. Panchanathan. “But in addition to providing creative solutions to address current problems, our eyes are on the future, leveraging partnerships at every level and encouraging diversity that breeds new ideas for a robust pipeline of young scientists. It is only through that expansive perspective on the scientific and engineering enterprise that we can recognize the brightest ideas and nurture them into tomorrow’s world-class technological innovations.”

According to NSF, Panch has identified three pillars of his vision for the agency: advancing research into the future, ensuring inclusivity, and continuing global leadership in science and engineering.

Dr. Panchanathan replaces President Trump’s science adviser, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, who has been serving as Acting NSF Director since previous NSF Director France Cordova’s term ended earlier in 2020.

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Now Online: AIBS Employment Acquisition Skills Boot Camp for Scientists

Registration is now open for the Employment Acquisition Skills Boot Camp for Scientists, an online professional development program from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate programs in the United States do an excellent job of preparing students for careers in academia. As early career professionals and a growing number of reports note, however, many recent STEM graduates (including those with advanced degrees) are interested in employment in sectors beyond the professoriate by the time they complete their degree.

Scientists continue to report that they feel ill-prepared and ill-equipped to pursue employment in these settings.

To help scientists identify and successfully transition into the careers they desire, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) developed a program to help scientists hone and practice the skills needed to secure employment. AIBS’ Employment Acquisition Skills Boot Camp for Scientists is an intensive multi-day program that blends lecture and hands-on exercises. Designed by scientists with years of work experience in diverse settings and a career coach, this program provides graduate students to senior scientists with the information, tools, and resources required to successfully identify and secure employment in a diversity of careers, including science policy, communications, researchers or program managers in the private sector, research funding organizations, non-profit management, international development, government agencies, and others.

Course participants will:

  • Identify and clarify career interests and opportunities by reviewing currently available jobs;
  • Learn to communicate their knowledge and skills to employers by providing tools and activities;
  • Develop strategies for finding employment;
  • Develop application materials with feedback from instructors;
  • Prepare for and practice different interview styles and scenarios.

Current graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and scientists interested in transitioning to a new employment sector should consider signing up.

This course will be offered online in three half-day sessions conducted on September 25, October 2, and October 9, 2020. The program will be offered live from 12:00 - 3:30 PM Eastern Time.

For more information, including a general program agenda, and to register, please visit: https://www.aibs.org/events/employmentbootcamp.html

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Now Online: AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’s highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

The Boot Camp will be offered as an intensive, two-day, hands-on online training program on July 13-14, 2020.

Participants will learn:

  • How to communicate science to non-technical audiences
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to advocate for your work within your home institution
  • How to hone your written communication skills to increase your impact and influence
  • How to write and pitch press releases
  • How to write Op-Eds
  • How to leverage social media
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Learn more about the program and register now at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communicationsbootcamp.html.

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Enter the 2020 Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest for your chance to win $250 and to have your photo appear on the cover of the journal BioScience.

The competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers.

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the contest must depict a person, such as a scientist, researcher, collections curator, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The depicted research may occur outside, in a lab, with a natural history collection, on a computer, in a classroom, or elsewhere.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year subscription to BioScience.

The winning photo from the 2019 contest was featured on the cover of the April 2020 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on September 30, 2020.

For more information or to enter the contest, visit https://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is soliciting public input on best practices and innovative ideas for education in the principles of rigorous research as well as promotion of rigorous research practices. Responses to this Request for Information (RFI) can be submitted online via this webform or via an email to RigorChampions@nih.gov by August 1, 2020. If submitting by email, please include the Notice number (NOT-NS-20-062) in the subject line. More information can be found at https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-NS-20-062.html.

  • The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) is soliciting experts to serve on the Committee on A Research Strategy for Ocean Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration. The panel will explore ocean-based approaches to carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and sequestration and provide a path forward for research and development of promising CDR approaches. The CDR approaches to be examined include recovery of ocean and coastal ecosystems; seawater CO2 stripping; seaweed permaculture; and ocean alkalinity enhancement. Twelve experts are sought from the following scientific disciplines: physical, biological and chemical oceanography; chemical engineering; carbon capture; and economics. Nominations will be accepted until Friday, July 10, 2020 at https://nas.us8.list-manage.com/track/click?u=18fe6f8f25ec0bc7509e65e97&id=6ad147d09e&e=cfc3938e72

  • President Donald Trump has announced his intent to nominate William P. Pendley to serve as the next Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Mr. Pendley is currently serving as Deputy Director for Policy and Programs at BLM. He previously served as President of Mountain States Legal Foundation, as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps, and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Energy and Minerals in the Reagan administration. Mr. Pendley earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the George Washington University and his J.D. from the University of Wyoming.

  • July 6-11, 2020 is being celebrated as the first #BlackBotanistsWeek to promote, encourage, create a safe space for, and find more Black people (and BIPOC) who love plants. To learn more, visit https://blackbotanistsweek.weebly.com/.

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